Ulster County has done a good job for the last 20 years of making the garbage go away. That’s all anyone wants, right, to make it disappear? And so it has — mainly, in recent years, to a landfill on the Waterloo-Seneca Falls border way out in central New York. But not here.
There’s only one problem with the whole operation. The revenues the county collects through its tipping fees for haulers and contracts with municipalities, once the debt service for what began as a $30 million debt and is now in the low $20s of millions is factored in, isn’t enough to keep the RRA in the black. The agency runs at a deficit of between $2 million and $3 million per year. Ulster County is responsible for this shortfall and must, according to its contract with the agency (a sort of quasi-authority that governs itself, though its board of directors is chosen by county government), see to it that the RRA breaks even by contributing what is called a “net service fee” — funding that has to be built into the county budget.
Budgets being what they are these days, with 2 percent tax caps and multiple unfunded mandates being handed down by the state, it’s no wonder that County Executive Michael Hein would seek to find a way for the county not to have to tax its residents that $2 to $3 million Net Service Fee.
From such necessity springs “flow control.” If Hein’s plan, introduced in October along with his 2013 budget proposal, is adopted, the county, through the agency, would require that all trash generated within its borders is to be unloaded at the county facility in the Town of Ulster at RRA tipping fee rates — which stand at $100 per ton for residential and business self-haulers, and $83 per ton for licensed commercial haulers.
Current estimates are that the county now takes in 75 to 80 percent of Ulster’s solid waste. The rest is usually taken elsewhere by private haulers, such as Waste Management and County Waste (recently purchased by Waste Connections), who feel that they get a better deal at, for instance, their own landfills.
Flow control would bring in the last 20 percent, and the revenue gained from the per-ton tipping fees would ostensibly make up the gap. Plus, the county, which would no longer have to compete against out-of-county landfills for Ulster trash, could set its own rates, to make sure that the agency broke even. The RRA, according to Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, took in $15,787,567 in 2010.
Decried as creating a monopoly
Needless to say, there are some critics of the plan. At a public hearing before the county legislature, which will be voting on the county executive’s flow control law on Tuesday, December 4, five out of nine speakers trashed the plan. Saugerties resident Terry Parisian called it an unfunded mandate and an obsolete management tool. “[The RRA] becomes a monopoly and an additional tax on residents. It evades the 2 percent tax cap,” he said. “There’s no reason for efficiency with a monopoly. When New Jersey dropped Flow Control, its fees dropped to $22 per ton.”
Ulster Park’s Sally Buboltz concurred. “I decided not to sit at home and have a hissy fit about this … I used to sit on 9W in traffic and watch the trucks go behind Lindy’s and then dump who knows what. There might be dead bodies in there. That’s going to happen again…The RRA finances are a disaster. We, the people, don’t like monopoly.”
And Steve Changaris, a spokesman for the National Solid Wastes Management Associations, representing private haulers, including Waste Management and Waste Connections, called it more a licensing agreement. “The haulers are locked into 5- to 10-year contracts…the licensing part is a cost-driver, routing is a paperwork nightmare,” he said, referring to the proposed law’s requirement that all routes be monitored by GPS, and that all route changes be reported to the RRA. “The routes can change everyday…”
He suggested that there could be a lawsuit in the offing should the county enact the plan.